Rain has dominated our weather for Christmas and the new year, making field work a non-runner for most.

It looks like there is drier weather in the forecast for next week. There is also frost on the way at the weekend.

Cover crops

As mentioned last week, cover crops planted under ACRES can now be grazed, sprayed, rolled in the frost or incorporated. You can only graze if the proper buffers and lieback areas are in place.

A 3m buffer of grass or volunteer cereals is required around the crop. This is 4m at a watercourse. A lieback area is also required. If you have 7ac of catch crop you need a 3ac lieback of grass or stubble.

Farmers who planted in July and early August may have some leniency here, as rules were not clarified until late August. However, inspectors will assess this on a case-by-case basis, so there is no guarantee.

The heavy rain will have made some places very wet for grazing, and grazing should stop where soil is being damaged. The cover crop should help to soak up some of that rain, but conditions will still be very wet.

The lieback was intended to prevent poaching of land. These rules come under conditionality, formerly cross-compliance under the new CAP, and so could result in penalties to your payments if not adhered to.

The overall objective of the rules is to keep a cover on the soil and to protect the soil from erosion.

Costs and returns

I keep saying it, but get your costs and returns for 2023 finalised and estimates for 2024 in place. We have to know what crops are performing best. This is also essential to decide on a point at which you are happy to sell grain at.

Decide on a selling point early in the year that you can make a profit on and use this to decide when you might forward sell some grain throughout the year. Teagasc costs and returns are a big help in estimating some costs you may be unsure of or to use as a template for your own costs and returns.

Tillage conference

The Dairygold tillage conference takes place on Friday, 12 January at 2pm in Corrin Event Centre, Fermoy, Co Cork. Trade stands will be available to view from 12pm.

Speakers on the day include Eoin Lowry, head of agriculture at Bank of Ireland on challenges in agriculture and risk mitigation; William and Robert Coleman, who farm with a massive focus on improving soil health on their tillage and drystock farm; and Ciarán Collins, tillage specialist at Teagasc, on knowing your costs.

Dates for the diary

The Ulster Farmers Union, Ulster Arable Society and College of Agriculture, Food and Rural enterprise will host their annual arable conference on Thursday, 25 January at CAFRE’s Greenmount Campus.

There will be talks on organic manure, biological farming and grass weeds among many others.

The Teagasc National Tillage Conference takes place on Wednesday, 31 January in the Lyrath Estate Hotel, Co Kilkenny. There’s a big focus on managing poor winter crops and planning for spring planting in 2024, as well as all the latest research updates.